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03/25/2019 20:25 EDT | Updated 03/26/2019 15:18 EDT

Viral Twitter Threads On Sexual Harassment Have People Asking, 'How Do I Step In?'

Sexual harassment can happen anywhere. And anyone can help stop it.

It's everyone's responsibility to step in when they see harassment, experts say.
Jupiterimages via Getty Images
It's everyone's responsibility to step in when they see harassment, experts say.

"Thread about airplane creeps," begins a tweet from Joanna Chiu, just after midnight Sunday.

"I'm on a plane from a late-evening stopover from (sic) and was very tired and had a row to myself to sleep but couldn't avoid noticing what was going on in the row behind me."

What follows is a play-by-play account of an alleged exchange between an older man and his seatmate, a teenage girl. Chiu, bureau chief of Star Vancouver, said that while she was looking forward to getting some shuteye on her flight, she felt compelled to stay awake to monitor this situation.

The middle-aged man made overtures toward the teen, according to Chiu:

At that point, Chiu turned around to tell the passenger "exactly what I thought" of his request to the teen for a dirty photo. She tweeted that he didn't reply, but instead went to the bathroom.

Watch: "In-Flights Sexual Assaults On The Rise?" Story continues below.

When he was gone, Chiu and another female passenger let the teen know they had been watching the situation. Chiu also alerted the flight crew.

The man allegedly moved after he verbally abused Chiu, and the attendants helped the young woman file a report about the incident. The male passenger was also confronted by security once he disembarked the plane.

You can read Chiu's full thread here, which has been liked and retweeted tens of thousands of times at time of publication. HuffPost Canada has reached out to Chiu for comment and will update this post if we receive it.

In subsequent tweets in the thread and an op-ed that Chiu wrote detailing her experience, she observed that it seemed as though her fellow male passengers didn't seem to notice what was transpiring, whereas other female passengers did. The young woman allegedly targeted in this incident welcomed the assistance from passengers and flight crew, Chiu wrote. Chiu, who did not name the airline to avoid endorsement because she's a journalist, commended the crew and passengers' swift and definitive action.

"Canadians are known for being polite and courteous, but when speaking up is important, I am proud that in this case passengers and crew stood up to directly confront a harasser," she said.

A common experience for women

Many women who responded to her thread related to her posts about experiencing harassment, while many men were surprised at how common and universal these experiences can be and wondered what they could to do help.

What Chiu allegedly witnessed isn't a standalone incident. Last summer, the FBI said that the number of sexual assaults reported during commercial airline flights is increasing "at an alarming rate."

FBI investigations into midair sexual assaults increased by 66 per cent from fiscal year 2014 to 2017, said the report. Calls to Transport Canada to determine Canadian stats were not immediately returned.

Jameela Jamil shares her harassment experience

Chiu's Twitter thread comes as actress Jameela Jamil also shared on Sunday night the ugly treatment she's received from men.

The star of "The Good Place" tweeted about a situation that happened to her in which a man allegedly tried to ask for her number, and when she turned him down, he got angry and threatened her.

When that tweet received widespread support online, Jamil shared another instance of a man making an unwanted advance when she was 19.

In that case, Jamil recalled the man physically assaulted her when she turned him down.

"Being a woman is truly, constantly scary," she wrote.

Many of Jamil's followers were inspired to share their own stories of harassment or unwanted advances from aggressive men.

One user said: 'I once politely turned down a guy who approached me mid-shopping by saying what you did.

'He said he was surprised I had a bf with my 'attitude', carried on walking with me and said I'm probably too expensive anyway before another guy stood in between us and asked if I was OK.'

Another commented: 'I was telling a story about unwanted male attention to one of my guy mates recently. He uttered the f****** awful cliche "You should be flattered."

The ABCs of intervention and community care

"There are different things bystanders can do to try to figure out what is happening in a situation that they are witnessing in a public space," Chiu wrote in her op-ed for the Star. "People of all genders and walks of life need to be part of this important conversation."

Farrah Khan, manager of Ryerson's Consent Comes First, the Toronto university's office of sexual violence support and education, said that she was pleased at how the women and crew on board the flight handled this situation.

"This incident highlights community intervention and the ways in which people can intervene," Khan told HuffPost Canada. "It wasn't only the two women passengers who intervened, but the airline company and its staff did as well, so it became about community care, and that's what bystander intervention is about. Understanding that, when something like this happens, you cannot be silent."

She said that this intervention approach is three-fold.

"I call it the ABCs of bystander intervention. So, A) assess for safety B) be with others and C) care for the survivor."

The number one thing you don't want to do in situations like this is think that it's not your responsibility, said Khan.

"So, you can start friendly by intervening, saying, 'Hey, how are you?' to distract the situation. If that doesn't work, then you seek help and turn to more direct approaches saying, 'Hey, what you're doing is not OK,' while always being aware of your own safety."

"No matter where you are, you have a right to be safe and that is the most important thing we, as women, cannot forget," said Khan.

Therapist Jordan Pickell says that while she's not sure the number of incidents of sexual harassment have declined since the #MeToo movement has emerged, it has "has created space for people to recognize and name their experiences for what they are: unacceptable harassment, assault, and violence."

As a result, more people are reaching out to therapists to process their experiences of harassment, she said. Pickell, who is based in Vancouver, had a message for anyone who's had to endure sexual harassment or abuse.

"If you have found yourself in a situation like this, I want you to know that it is not your fault. There is no 'right way; to respond to harassment. You deserve to feel safe. You deserve support."

With files from Lisa Yeung.

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